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Associated Press
GOP nominee Mitt Romney meets with delegates after speaking Wednesday at the American Legion’s national convention in Indianapolis.

Romney hits Obama cuts on defense, vet benefits

– Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney told the American Legion’s national convention Wednesday that President Obama is gutting the military and neglecting its veterans.

“Where the president has failed to lead, we will protect our national defense from cuts that jeopardize critical missions,” Romney said about his prospective administration. “Where he’s let down our veterans, we will welcome them home to a booming economy and the jobs they need. Where he’s dodged the tough choices, we’ll confront them head-on and deliver a better future for Americans of this generation and the next.”

Romney told 2,400 American Legion delegates at the Indiana Convention Center that he would stop automatic reductions to military spending that are set to take effect beginning next year. The cuts are contained in the Budget Control Act passed by Congress a year ago.

“The Obama administration is set to cut defense spending by nearly a trillion dollars. My administration will not,” Romney said, generating applause from his audience.

“There are plenty of places to cut in a federal budget that now totals well over $3 trillion, but defense is not one of them,” he said without identifying them.

Romney also vowed improvements for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“The packed backlog for disability claims has doubled on (Obama’s) watch. There are now close to 1 million claims waiting to be processed,” the former governor of Massachusetts said.

He said VA problems “have got to be fixed,” but he did not say how he would speed the handling of medical claims for veterans.

Romney did pledge to make all veterans eligible for in-state tuition at state universities regardless of where they live. He proposed to work with states to adopt skilled-trades licensing requirements that recognize military training. And he said VA would hire more mental-health professionals if he is elected Nov. 6.

Dick Jewell, Indiana commander for the Indianapolis-based American Legion, doubted whether Romney could enact his ideas.

“How is he going to force states to grant in-state tuition status to any veteran that comes through the door?” Jewell asked during an interview after Romney’s 15-minute speech. “That boggled my mind. On the credentialing, you can set up federal standards, but I don’t believe the federal government can force a state to accept a federal standard for a beautician license or a paramedic license.”

Romney’s speech was “highly partisan, a lot of promises, zero substance that I heard,” said Jewell, a resident of Bath in southeast Indiana.

Dick Bash, the American Legion district commander for northeast Indiana, said he was “impressed” by Romney’s speech, particularly when the candidate called for increasing job opportunities for veterans.

Bash noted that for the first time since 1932, there’s not a military veteran on either major-party presidential ticket.

“I would prefer it, but that’s not the case,” said Bash, who lives along Lake Gage in Steuben County.

Romney is scheduled to speak at the Republican National Convention late tonight. GOP delegates nominated him for president Tuesday.

Obama welcomed the American Legion’s 94th annual convention Tuesday with a recorded video. In it, he talked about the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq, the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan and federal programs for helping veterans find jobs.

Jewell said presidents typically speak in person to the American Legion gathering every other year, alternating the appearances with those before the VFW’s annual conventions. Obama spoke to the American Legion at its convention last year in Minneapolis.

“The fact that the president didn’t come this year is no real slight,” Jewell said.

Before Romney’s appearance in Indianapolis, the Truman National Security Project, a left-leaning institute in Washington, D.C., claimed Romney and his vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., are woefully short on experience in national defense and foreign policy necessary for the military’s commander in chief.

Among those speaking on behalf of the institute in a conference call with reporters was Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana and a former U.S. ambassador to India.

Romney “has said things such as Russia is the United States’ No. 1 political foe,” Roemer said. “That harkens back to the days of the Cold War in the 1980s. … It shows an alarming lack of understanding of the threats of the 21st century.”

Roemer said Obama “has been one of the most successful presidents since Franklin Roosevelt” in foreign policy, citing the killing of Sept. 11 planner Osama bin Laden, imposing sanctions against Iran and winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other things.

But in his remarks, Romney charged that Obama “has allowed our leadership to diminish” in the world.

“In dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it’s unearned, insult where it’s not deserved and apology where it’s not due,” Romney said.

Romney suggested that Obama has appeased U.S. rivals Iran and Cuba instead of “nurturing” alliances with Israel, Poland and the Czech Republic.

“Our foreign policy should take a page from the Marine Corps: ‘No better friend, no worse enemy,’ ” Romney said to cheers.